Review: 'Noises Off' and on, too
By now Michael Frayn's farce about a dumb troupe of actors called "Noises Off," which opened in Britain in 1982 and hit Broadway the next year, has been so widely produced in the English-speaking world that it's an old chestnut. Which is different from a classic. "Noises Off" hasn't the heft a classic demands, even for a farce. With its falling pants, constant door-slamming, so-so slapstick and running joke about sardines, it's actually a burlesque as farces go.
But "Noises Off" has one thing going for it:
As it moves through three acts, it builds on itself, getting funnier act by act, and leaves 'em laughin'. If you've never seen it, the production that opened this weekend at People's Light & Theatre in Malvern will likely be a big thumbs up. And if like me, you haven't seen it in ages, the production will be more than simply amusing, especially by the third act -- which People's Light (as is the rule these days for this farce) combines with the second act, so as to have a single intermission.
Trying to explain the plot, as it is, of "Noises Off" is fraught with the danger of trying to parse any farce: You had to be there. So I'll just say that it's about the performance of an outrageously pointless one-act playlet – Frayn was deft in writing such a nonsense farce, then laying another farce about the actors on top of it.
You see or hear this play three times during "Noises Off ," whose title refers to the theater jargon for off-stage noise whenever playwrights choose to have such an effect. (Frayn certainly did, and some of the off-stage noise here is actually on stage, as one part of the show takes place back stage.)
The first time we see the little play about a real estate agent who brings a young lady to a house for rent with some ha-cha-cha in mind, only to find the housekeeper there and the owners arriving for a surprise visit, the actors performing the show are in a final rehearsal and the whole thing is a mess, clearly not ready for an audience.
The second and third time – well, if you've never seen it (or the movie made from the show), go find out for yourself. Hint: The personal alliances of the cast and its director play heavily into the way the actors behave onstage as well as off.
The real director of People's Light's "Noises Off" is the gifted comic actor Pete Pryor, now associate artistic director of the company. He's staged it smoothly, with actors who bring it off to that effect. Leonard C. Haas portrays the hopeless director of this hapless cast, David Ingram and Liz Filios are the owners of the house in the playlet, and Christopher Kelly and Jessica Bedford are the couple who've come for a moment of whoopee.
The especially dandy Marcia Saunders is the mixed-up housekeeper and David Howey stands out as an actor who hits the sauce and plays a burglar in the playlet. Leah Walton and Andrew Kane portray badgered stagehands.
Tony Straiges' set design is particularly impressive – the farce calls for us to see the playlet from the front of the stage and also behind it, and his turntable setting is a lesson in how magical theater is from an audience and how work-a-day off-stage. And it's obvious that even on that work-a-day backstage, Marla J. Jurglanis had a swell time designing the costumes, particularly for the women.
"Noises Off" runs through August 4 at People's Light & Theatre Company, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern. 610-644-3500 or www.peopleslight.org.